NASA’s Photos Which Inspired a Generation Go to Auction

Clyde Holliday. The first photograph from space, 24 October 1946. “The horizon as photographed at an altitude of 65 miles. At this point the camera was theoretically 720 miles from the horizon and the picture shows 40,000 square miles of space”, 24 October 1946 (APL caption). Before 1946, the highest pictures ever taken of the Earth’s surface were from the Explorer II balloon which had ascended 13.7 miles in 1935. The official boundary of space is the Karman line which lies at an altitude of 62.5 miles (100 km). This historic photograph was taken by a 35-mm camera developed by Clyde Holliday of the APL and fitted on the 13th V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. This is “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a spaceship” wrote Clyde Holliday in National Geographic in 1950.

Before NASA started taking and showing the world pictures from space, it was up to our imagination to picture our home planet. Once NASA went into space with a camera, our imagination got a boost. On October 24, 1946, NASA launched a rocked with a camera (above) and we could see, for the first time, the curvature of the Earth. It was easier to accept that our planet was really round. You can now own a piece of this photographic history, as a large collection of photographs from NASA’s Golden Age goes up for auction in London this Thursday, February 26. You can bid online at the Bloomsbury Auctions website for one of the hundreds of prints, with bidding starting as low as £200.

The largest area of Earth hitherto photographed at one time, from Nebraska to the Pacific, October 1954. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in) This composite photograph is made up of 310 prints of 16-mm motion picture film exposed about 100 miles above the Earth. The camera was in a rocket fired from White Sands in October 1954. The area shows about one and a quarter million square miles of the Earth.

It took eight more years for the world to have a picture of the Earth as a globe, thanks to a composite created from 310 prints (above). Now we could actually see that the Earth was round.

Buzz Aldrin. First self-portrait in space, Gemini 12, November 1966. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA S-66-62926 in red in top margin Illustrated: Space p.71, Cortright p.184. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.

From the hundreds of photos being auctioned, I was drawn to Buzz Aldrin’s self-portrait (above), which has the look and feel of a selfie, except this was done with a very expensive space Hasselblad. Today’s mobile phones have more computing power than the spaceship Aldrin is in, so the legend goes.

The phases of the Earth during an entire day, ATS I, 11 December 1966. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA Goddard caption on verso. ATS transmitted the first detailed whole Earth photographs and relayed from 23,000 miles images at various hours showing the “phases of the Earth”.

I grew up with pictures of the Earth from space, and I can only imagine what it would have been like to see the sequence of photos above back in 1966, or the first high-quality color photographs of the Earth below, taken in November 1967.

The first high quality colour photograph of the whole planet Earth, ATS III, 18 November 1967. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x10in), NASA Goddard ATS stamp and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso. “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available – once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known – a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, speaking in 1948. The entire disc of the Earth, photographed by the revolutionary Multicolor Spin-Scan Cloudcover Camera. Even at this relatively short distance in time, it is difficult to imagine the impact it had on the public who responded with real emotion to this first image of their planet in its true colours. Edgar Cortright selected this photograph as the frontispiece for “Exploring Space with a Camera” published the following year.
First colour photograph of the Crescent Earth, Apollo 4, 9 November 1967. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered MSC AS4-1-410 in red in top margin The photograph was made when the Saturn V third stage was orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 9,745 nautical miles. “Beautiful though they were, Apollo 4’s pictures didn’t make much impact in the press. Today, though, Apollo 4’s ghostly image of the Earth’s globe, pale and breathing, like a child in the womb awaiting its first human witness, has a peculiar fascination”. Earthrise, pp86-87 Illustrated: Exploring Space, p.199
William Anders. First Earthrise seen by human eyes, Apollo 8, December 1968. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA AS8-14-2383 in red in top margin. The celebrated view of planet Earth appearing over the bleached lunar horizon. “There was nothing in the plan for an Earthrise photo. Indeed, we didn’t even see an actual Earthrise until, on our third orbit, we changed the spacecraft’s orientation to heads up and looking forward. As we came round the back side of the moon, where I had been taking pictures of craters near our orbital track, I looked up and saw the startlingly beautiful sight of our home planet “rising” up above the stark and battered lunar horizon. It was the only color against the deep blackness of space. In short, it was beautiful, and clearly delicate”. W. Anders. Illustrated: The View from Space, p.98, Space p.83, Newhall pp136-137. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

I remember the picture above because my father was publishing El Año del Automóvil and he was so fascinated by it that he requested a copy from NASA which he could use in the book. And I love the image below. It inspires my imagination. I would love to be up there, looking down on creation.

Russell Schweickart. David Scott stands in the open hatch of the CSM, standup EVA, Apollo 9, March 1969. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA AS9-20-3064 in red in top margin. “I took this shot of Dave Scott taking a picture of me at the beginning of my EVA on Apollo 9. It captures just a bit of the fantastic beauty of the Earth juxtaposed against the infinite black of space. In the foreground is that amazing combination of human and machine that is enabling us to emerge into the universe out of the womb of Earth”. R. Schweickart. Illustrated: Space p.84, Spacecam p.40, Great Images in NASA (online), Moon p.160-161. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions
Panorama of the lunar horizon at the terminator over the Sea of Vapors, Apollo 10, May 1969. Mosaic of three vintage gelatin silver prints, 30 x 36cm, image 27.5 x 28.5cm, numbered NASA AS10-32-4819 to AS10-32-4821 in black in top margin. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions
227. Panorama from landing site 1 to the lunar terminator, Apollo 10, May 1969. Mosaic of twenty-eight vintage gelatin silver prints, 29 x 224cm, image 25 x 215cm, numbered NASA AS10-31-4527 to AS10-31-4559 in black in top margin. Landing site 1 was one of the possible destinations for Apollo 11. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

And I bet the collages of the moon surface inspired David Hockney to create his “joiners”. The one above can be yours for an estimated price of £4,000 to £6,000, the same estimated price as the iconic image of Buzz Aldrin almost touching the surface of the Moon.

Neil Armstrong. Buzz Aldrin prior to becoming second human being to set foot upon the Moon, Apollo 11, July 1969. Large-format vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, borderless, 60.5 x 50.5cm, “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, NASA HQ caption on separate page, [NASA negative number AS11-40-5866]. “We opened the hatch and Neil, with me as his navigator, began backing out of the tiny opening. It seemed like a small eternity before I heard Neil say, “That’s one small step for man . . . one giant leap for mankind.” In less than fifteen minutes I was backing awkwardly out of the hatch and onto the surface to join Neil, who, in the tradition of all tourists, had his camera ready to photograph my arrival.” Buzz Aldrin. Illustrated: Moon p.193, Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.
Neil Armstrong. Portrait of Buzz Aldrin with the photographer and the Lunar Module reected in his gold-plated visor, Apollo 11, July 1969. Large-format vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, borderless, 61 x 51cm, “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, NASA HQ caption on separate page, [NASA negative number AS11-40-5903]. A Man on the Moon, the legendary image. Illustrated: Moon, frontispiece. £8,000 – £10,000. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.

Pete Conrad. Alan Bean with the reection of the photographer in his visor, EVA 2, Apollo 12, November 1969. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption on verso, numbered NASA AS12-49-7278 in black in top margin. Alan Bean holds a container of lunar soil in his right hand. His Hasselblad camera is mounted on the control unit on his chest. Illustrated: Full Moon plate 69, The View from Space p.46.

I love the above photo of Alan Bean by Pete Conrad for many reasons: the reflection, the sharpness, the really cool Hasselblad camera. And the frame below of John Young sliding around in the lunar vehicle in the name of science is just fun. Go ahead and bid, and you could own one of the 692 lots from NASA’s Golden Age.

Charles Duke. Lunar Grand Prix at Descartes, EVA 3, Apollo 16, April 1972. Two vintage chromogenic prints, one on fibre-based Kodak paper, “A Kodak Paper” watermark, numbered NASA S-72-37002, one on resin coated Kodak paper, “A Kodak Paper” watermark, numbered 72-H-649, description printed verso (2). The rover gets a speed workout by John Young to test how the vehicle handles in the Moon’s one sixth gravity. The views are frames from motion picture film exposed by a 16mm Maurer camera held by Charles Duke. £300 – £500

Singularity University: Inventing the Future

Salim Ismail, former Executive Director, Singularity University, Mountain View, California. Photo: ©2012

According to inventor Ray Kurzweil, computers intelligence will surpass that of humans in 2029. In the meantime, he brings together some of the world’s smartest humans to brainstorm and work together in solutions that will have a positive effect on a billion or more people. This is the Singularity University, founded by Kurzwell, Peter Diamandis and Google’s Larry Page, with the participation of NASA and Microsoft.

Sci-fi writer Vernon Vinge came up with the term Singularity, and Kurzwell adopted it for the title of his book, The Singularity Is Near. “It’s coming, and we must be ready,” said Kurzwell to my colleague Carlos Fresneda, when we worked on an article for El Mundo. When we visited the campus in Mountain View, there were dozens of resumes of applicants pasted on the walls. Only 40 would be selected to participate in the 10-week graduate course, July 2009. We met Salim Ismail and his team, who were abuzz getting ready for the inaugural course.

This year the doubled the classroom size to 80 students, each paying the $25,000 tuition. But the number of applicants has grown exponentially to 2,400 people. The Guardian features a great story on the Singularity University on its cover today. Carol Cadwalladr’s article gives me hope in journalism. And the things that he writes about give me hope in our world. Did you know, for example, that  Craig Venter plans to create microalgae biofuels and that Exxon has already invested $300 million in this project? I didn’t, although it sounds much like the play I wrote earlier this year, The Magical Seaweed, in which [spoiler alert], the villan oil magnate joins forces with the seaweed to make clean energy.

Cadwalladr was fortunate to join the Singularity University Executive Program for three days in March. She describes the learning experience as a combination of lectures by world experts, and getting together around tables with people interested in the confronting the same challenges: Hunger, Water, Poverty, Education… and it makes me think how much our educational system needs to grow, exponentially. My son’s public school, Open Alternative School,is very much focused on learning by doing and working together, but I’m not so sure that other schools are like that.

Luckily, change’s coming, not too soon. For example, my kids are using Khan Academy to learn at their own pace. Sebastian Thrun has launched his own free online academy,  Udacity, after the success of his first Stanford online course open to all. I was one of the 160,000 students that registered. I was very proud to have gotten an A in my first homework. But the following classes got more difficult and, unfortunately, I wasn’t on of the 23,000 who graduated.

What will we create next?

As Diamandis says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”